Best feels alive - and Hampshire stir with him
Hampshire 270 (Alsop 72, Gurney 4-61) and 223 for 9 dec (Smith 61, Gurney 5-75) beat Nottinghamshire 189 (Wessels 72) and 235 (Taylor 71, Patel 65, Best 4-47)
So much about Tino Best is saying and doing what makes him feel alive. And if from time to time the saying leads him to trouble, the doing gives him and us so much more than a few crude anecdotes because match-winning performances like Best's today, in which he took 4 for 47, do not come around often.
Virtually every morning brings a tabloid headline, but 90-plus-mph spells that have you on the edge of your seat are disappointingly rare. Hampshire bested Nottinghamshire at the Ageas Bowl with a team that fought for every moment in the game, but Best's influence was devastating.
Consider where the game was headed before Best turned it on its head with a stunning final assault. Just 88 were required from 28 overs and Nottinghamshire, five down, were winning. Samit Patel (65) and Dan Christian (31) had their teeth into the chase and, with runs coming as and when they wanted, Hampshire were starting to fade.
Will Smith handed the ball to Best and walked away in deep contemplation, knowing that this would tilt the game. Had he been too generous earlier in the piece?
With Hampshire ahead by 304, Smith had called the second innings to a halt to give Nottinghamshire the chance to bat 86 overs. Prior to the declaration, the formality of Harry Gurney's five wicket haul - his fifth of his career - had been completed, giving him career-best match figures of nine for 136.
With the first ball of the chase, Best hit Steven Mullaney on the back. There was a stop and stare - there's always a stare - then Best returned to his mark. That's where the ball stayed for the next few overs: between the kidney and ribs. Jake Libby, struggling, looked to have found sanctuary on the back foot with a baying Bajan at the door. All the bolts looked to have been applied. But a bit of width tempted to prop forward. Caught behind. Best had begun.
For the second time in the match, the bowler locked horns with Michael Lumb. This time, though, Best would be able to send him on his way - trapped in front from around the wicket. And when Ryan McLaren replaced Best at the Pavilion End to remove Mullaney and Rikki Wessels - the scoreboard reading 68 for 4 - the hosts looked set.
But Brendan Taylor and Patel dug deep. Boundaries came: first one at a time, then seemingly in threes and fours. Patel, on 35, nicked Mason Crane between the keeper and first slip. Taylor brought up a first half-century of the season, from 77 balls, which Best seemed to take as a slight against him. A wayward barrage followed which saw the riled quick concede 12 byes from three sharp bouncers in the space of nine deliveries. Nottinghamshire used them to breeze past 150.
With 129 to get, Taylor though he could take Crane's leg spin over mid on for a second time. A misjudgement saw him skew the ball high… to Best. The catch was taken and then promptly sent towards the sky. Best, despite only being brought off a few overs early, had begun warming up to grab the eye of his captain. With 28 overs left, Smith had no choice but to oblige.
In his previous spell, Best looked to have lost the feel for the game. To some, it felt like he was on the cusp of trying too hard once more. The body language of his teammates had also started to wane. Christian, offered a reprieve when he was dropped on one by Sean Ervine, off the bowling of Crane, had begun unfurling booming shot after shot, culminating in a sweetly time six own the ground of the 19-year-old leggie.
But rather than losing his nerve, Crane decided to come around the wicket and make use of the rough. Christian was kept in check. Best, watching on as someone 15 years his junior kept his composure, when more senior figures around him were losing theirs, took heart.
The first ball of the second over of his new spell saw Christian's middle stump taken out of the ground. Four balls later, after testing Brett Hutton's toes, he went to spite his nose. Hutton hooked high and out to the deep fine leg. Crane was there steadying himself. The catch was taken. Just like that, Notts were 222 for 7 and just two wickets remaining as Chris Read was unable to bat.
Fittingly, it was left to Crane to finish the job, as he had done in the first innings. Patel, now swinging for the hills, could only skew to Ervine at slip who, this time, made no mistake. The very next ball, Gurney found Michael Carberry at point. And with that, Hampshire had won their first game of the season.
At stumps, Best was as you'd expect: smiling, charming, talking about the love of fast bowling and throwing out the sort of lines that endear him to the quoting public. "I love fast bowling. It makes me feel free," was one. "I'm here to play cricket - I'm not here to drink milk," was another, when asked if he was available for all three forms, no just Championship cricket. He even spoke of "giving 150%". While the cynics might roll their eyes, they cannot watch Best and conclude that he doesn't give as much as he can.
But for all the stereotypical characteristics of a fast bowler that Best possesses - the rage, the rump, the motor-mouth - there are a handful of qualities that make him something of an anomaly. For example, he does not believe in rhythm. He works from delivery to delivery: focusing on keeping a still head in his gather and ensuring the front arm is pulled down "nice and strong".
He does not put too much emphasis on match-hauls or season milestones: instead, he looks to ensure each spell brings a wicket, whether "Best" is featured alongside it in the scorecard or not. In the years of playing the part of "strike bowler", the attitude of a support bowler has come late. "I just try to make sure I'm an asset to the team." Still, his six wickets in the match and 12 so far this season is assisting Hampshire greatly.
What is evident is that Hampshire - specifically Dale Benkenstein and Giles White - have created a team with the atmosphere and personnel to bring out Tino's best. McLaren is disciplined, James Tomlinson keeps opposition honest and Crane, in Best's words, "makes me express myself even better". In Best's career, he believes he has only come across two better leg spinners - Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill.
For Nottinghamshire, they have played their part in another classic. Director of cricket Mick Newell, for all his frustrations at how the season has panned out since an opening win against Surrey, can see that. "Sure, we've had some great adverts for the game," he started. "But we've not won any of them. For us to be 81 behind in the first innings - that's where the game has been lost."
Whether they like it or not, Nottinghamshire are in the midst of a scrap nearer the bottom of Divison One than they would like. They will embark on it for the tim being without Read, who is suffering from a broken hand after being struck while batting in the first innings. Once a doctor sees Read in person - scans have already been done and he was walking around the Ageas Bowl with his left hand in a cast - Notts will have a better idea on when he might be back.
As for whether Hampshire have what it takes to avoid relegation, well, it is only right to let Best have the final say:
"We got a guy call Tino Best. We got a guy called Mason Crane. We got a guy called Michael Carberry. We got a brilliant all rounder named Sean Ervine. We got a smashing captain called Mr Vince. We got a grafter by the name of Will Smith - he's got the same name as my favourite actor. I think our chances are brilliant."
Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo, the Guardian, All Out Cricket and Yahoo Sport